Colors of the Diaspora

Regina Resnik presents Colors of the Diaspora. It’s a DVD collection with 3 distinct programs included, conceived and written by Michael Philip Davis. Ms. Resnik introduces and narrates the three concerts. Each is a distinct classical music art program, with the common thread of Jewish art music or music on Jewish themes.

The DVD will make the perfect Hannukah present for someone who loves both classical music and Jewish music. The DVD can be obtained through VAI DVD 4540, but also can be ordered directly through Video Artists International, 109 Wheeler Ave., Pleasantville, NY 10570. Toll free number is 800-477-7146.

The DVD includes some surprising repertoire and will introduce even aficionados of Jewish music to new selections.The narration is well written and informative. The selections are thoughtful, artistic, and knowledgeable about the breadth of Jewish music. There are pieces that have never been recorded before, several world premieres, and several first performances. The entire collection runs over 3 hours … quite a substantial collection. The selection of composers includes Jewish and non-Jewish composers, many of them still living and composing, such as John Corigliano, Simon Sargon, David Schiff, Ronald Senator, Seymour Barab and Thomas Pasatieri, among others. I was especially delighted to hear some of this more contemporary music performed with such taste and talent.

Each of the concerts has its own performers and performance venue. The first concert was performed at Lincoln Center in 2011 with a live audience and called simply “American Jewish Composers in Classical Song”. In it we have some stunning performances– a first US premier of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco‘s “Hath Not a Jew Eyes?” with text from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, followed by world premieres including John Corigliano’s “A Petition to the Governor”; Cantare from “Sh’ma” by Simon Sargon, “Cartload of Shoes” by Ronald Senator; and “Jeremiah” by the late Jack Gottlieb. Performers included Roslyn Barak, soprano; Michael Philip Davis, tenor; Charles Stephens, baritone and Vlad Iftinca, piano. The other two concerts are even more distinguished.

The second concert is Covert or Convert and covers a wide variety of music from a short fragment of music by Obadiah the Proselyte to the light ‘Catherine’ by Aldo Finzi. Along the way, we hear music of the Sephardic Jews, including a rendition of ‘Bendigamos’ uncovered by Liliana Alcalay. Of really special interest are the introduction and performance of Anton Rubenstein‘s “Judah’s Prayer” from his The Maccabees. (Not to be confused with the Handel setting by any means), Rubenstein’s is a darker prayer for redemption. One of the highlights of the collection were some of the narratives Ms. Resnick gave, which help explain background of the pieces and the intellectual thread followed during the concert. One such was about Otto Klemperer, the conductor who had converted away from Judaism in Europe, but later returned to it after he had been driven out by Nazis. Klemperer is known more for being a conductor, but composed some pieces. Here is presented a rare occasion to hear his “Psalm 42” setting. After that come the heartbreaking pieces of two composers who died in the Shoah, Gideon Klein and Viktor Ullmann.The last selection of this concert is the powerful “Mogayn Ovos” setting by a young Zygmunt Schul. Performers included Darynn Zimmer, soprano, Michael Philip Davis, tenor, Charles Stephens, baritone, Vlad Ifinca, piano, and David Leisner, guitar.

The last concert program, “Crossing All Boundaries” has music by non-Jewish composers on Jewish themes sung in many languages. Here you get performances of many of the usual, including Ravel‘s Melodies Hebraiques, and Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Hebrew Melody” and selections by Shostakovich. However, newer selections by Thomas Pasatieri from “Letter to Warsaw” stand out. One of the striking things about this video are the images used during the singing. The setting in a studio is frequently switched to background pictures. Occasionally, there are some graphic images from the Shoah used as background during some of the pieces. The piece ends with 2 trios of Dmitri Shostakovich, “Winter” and “Happiness” both very different. “Winter” eerily bemoans the difficulties of a Jewish family and the second humorously presents a “success” of a Jewish shoemaker. Despite current discussions of whether he was truly a philo-Semite, Shostakovich’s music continues to live and be part of the Jewish repertoire. Performers included in the third program included Katherine Whyte, soprano, Audrey Babcock, mezzo-soprano, Alex Richardson, tenor, Milos Repicky, piano, and Annaliesa Place, violin.

As Ms. Resnik summarizes in her epilogue, the music in these concerts covers such a diversity of languages, over 900 years timespan, styles and genres — yet all contain within them “the Jewish spirit- destined to survive; the Jewish experience, a universal experience.” This DVD will certainly entertain and enlighten the homes that receive it. The DVD can be obtained through VAI DVD 4540, but also can be ordered directly through Video Artists International, 109 Wheeler Ave., Pleasantville, NY 10570. Toll free number is 800-477-7146.